Creative Branding in China Series:
“Is Your Brand Ready for China?” is something agency owners Siu Tang and Natalie Lowe continues to ask brands who want to jump on the China bandwagon. Both Siu and Natalie have been based in Shanghai for almost 15 years, and since establishing The Orangeblowfish in 2012, both have had their fair share of being asked “How do I adapt my brand to make it successful in China?”
In 2021, The Orangeblowfish partnered with PRovoke Media to create the “Creative Branding in China” series. In this post, we highlight the common FAQs that summarize key challenges and mistakes foreign brands may face when entering the China market.
Here we go …
Question 1: What are the most common stubborn myths about branding and marketing in China that persist in the West?
Lowe: I think the one that gets still gets me the most, is that “marketing in China is cheap”. I’ve been in China since 2007, and minimum wages and the cost of living has grown significantly since I first moved here, and it continues to grow. Skills of the workforce, its productivity levels as well as the cost of living in China, continues to drive labor costs up. So, there is constant misalignment between what new brand entrants are willing to spend, and what the real investment is to get a brand going successfully in China.
Question 2: What is to number one mistake you see foreign brands making in China?
Lowe: Brands not investing in digital or thinking how consumers use digital in China, is the same as in their home country. It’s not!
When I first speak with brands, they assume that China’s digital eco-system is the equivalent of Twitter, Facebook or even Instagram. Yes, that was most likely the case a decade ago when some of the Chinese apps started, but they’ve grown much more sophisticated.
So, when brands come to China, I would like to recommend that they have an open and curious mind and ask strategic questions like: “How can I leverage China’s digital ecosystem to get my brand noticed?” Or “What is the top Chinese brand in my product / service category that I can aspire to be?” “What platforms do you think will be suitable to launch my product?”
Question 3: What are some challenges foreign brands have when it comes to developing creative campaigns for the China market?
Tang: Saving costs when it comes to localizing global marketing assets for the China market or not understanding local cultural nuances.
When working with a market like China, brand owners need to understand that China is quite different from your own… so be sure to dedicate time and learn about cultural differences as well as its subtle nuances. When I first moved to China, over 13 years ago, I felt that China and the East were being perceived as secondary markets to other countries. A brand’s headquarter culture and values, along with elements of its creativity and campaigns were simply moved and dropped into China without any localization efforts. Some brands still do this today to save costs – which will be detrimental to its success – and to be honest, it’s challenging for us to tell them that it won’t work. Simply put: Chinese consumers will no longer pay attention to brands who ignore China’s heritage and culture.
Question 4: What are some factors do brand owners have to take into when building a successful brand strategy in China?
Tang: Build and/or adapt global campaigns so that it appeals and resonates with a local Chinese audience.
When working with China, undoubtedly, cross-cultural collaboration will exist across creative teams. As such, it’s important for brand owners to listen to the advice, cultural and market insights of local teams. They are your eyes and ears on the ground.
Local brands have an edge over foreign brands because they understand local consumer behavior, what drives them including the macro-level policies and communication strategies. Learning about marketing or doing business in China is a steep learning curve for those who are new to the market, so be sure to leverage your local creative team to guide you to success.